Private sidewalks in Soldiers Grove will not be plowed by the village, despite an effort by two newly elected trustees to have the practice reinstated.
At his first meeting since being elected, Jerry Moran made a motion to start plowing all the private sidewalks along with the village-owned sidewalks in the coming year. Moran is the village’s former director of public works. He noted seeing the great burden snow removal had placed on some elderly residents this past winter.
Moran also pointed out the relatively low cost providing the service for the village. He explained the wages paid to the employee primarily responsible for clearing the sidewalks before this year were $276 in 2011-12; $1,275 in 2010-11; and $860 in 2009-10. While these wages are the highest part of the cost in removing the snow from the private sidewalks, it did not include the cost of gas and depreciation on the machine being used.
“In my opinion, considering how much we spend to water the flowers, this is more important,” Moran said. “My motion is to go back to the way we did it in the past. We can’t treat our people that way. There’s enough resentment toward paying taxes already.”
Village president Laurel Hestetune wondered if reinstating the plowing might actually create more resentment toward paying taxes.
The other new village trustee, Paul Nicholson, seconded Moran’s motion. On a roll call vote, Moran and Nicholson were joined by Jim Helgerson in voting to reinstate the private sidewalk plowing, while trustees Roy Davidson, Bob Froiseth, Shayne Chapman and village president Laurel Hestetune voted against the motion.
Taxes and services were a very important part of the village audit report presented by Johnson and Block accountant Melanie Lendosky at the beginning of the meeting.
The accountant began with some background for the board. She noted that village’s shared revenue from the state had fallen from about $234,000 in 2008 to about $230,000 in 2012. Meanwhile, property tax revenue for the village had increased from $22,828 in 2007 to $24,811 in 2012. She reminded the board that the village is allowed a zero percent tax increase except for new construction mandated by state law.
Lendosky told the board that only six percent of a village resident’s tax bill actually went to the village as revenue, the rest went to the school district, the tech school district, the county and the state.
The accountant told the board that both the water and sewer utility are in need of “full-blown rate increase” to be approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The utilities are both struggling despite having “simplified rate increases” of about 3.5 percent last year. The utilities have not had a major rate increase with an application to and approval from the PSC since 1995.
The water utility had revenues exceed cost by .18 percent in 2012, while the sewer utility expenses exceeded the revenues in 2012. The water utility’s reserve was $106,350 in 2012, which Lendosky estimated to be about a one-year reserve. The accountant noted the sewer utility reserve of $17,360 was more like a two-month reserve. She cautioned that the reserves were low for the utilities, which may have to undertake costly capital projects sometime in the future.
On a positive note, the accountant explained that the village still has 61 percent of its debt capacity remaining should it need to borrow money.
During the fire department report, chief Dave Clason told the board that the department’s brush truck, a 1986 Chevy, was failing and its slipping transmission would make it inoperable at some point in the future. Replacing the transmission would cost about $3,000, which Clason did not recommend because of the truck’s age. A quality used replacement for the truck would run up to $80,000.
Village president Laurel Hestetune told Clason “to get the ball rolling on finding something to replace the truck.” He noted a local resident could have lost his house the previous night, when the truck struggled up a hill to put out a vehicle fire near the house.
The department’s second tanker truck is leaking badly, but can be used as it is, Clason told the board.
In a related development, the board heard and approved a bid to upgrade lighting in the fire department building as proposed by the E-3 Coalition. The job estimated to cost $4,498 will only cost the village $2,490 due to a Focus on Energy grant of $1,708 and transferable tax credit of $300. After a brief discussion, the board approved the bid for the work with the grants and tax credit.
Soldiers Grove’s contracted police officer through the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department is Peggy McCormick-Godfrey. She made the police report to the board.
The officer told the board that residents observing vehicles squealing tires in the village need to get license plate numbers and make reports. She also requested that another officer be obtained to help her at the Dairy Days celebration in addition to sheriff’s deputies who will be assisting in the area.
McCormick-Godfrey informed the board that she would make a presentation at the EMS and fire department meetings about the use of unlicensed sirens and speeding en route to the station for a call, which is illegal.
The officer and board discussed semi parking near the park, which is banned during non-winter months. McCormick-Godfrey recommended more signage in the area advising that semi-trailer parking was illegal.
After some discussion it was agreed that the officer would do the best she could to see the ordinance forbidding semi-trailer parking was enforced.
In other business the Soldiers Grove Village Board:
• decided the Community Development Corporation (CDC) could not spend money for public works projects, like the Myrtle Lake Cleanup-including the proposed $1,000 assessment for a chemical treatment, without board approval
• approved six change orders for the library expansion and remodeling to be paid from the project’s contingency fund
• approved a payment of $57,478 to contractor Marvin Hansen for work completed on the project
• donated $750 to the North Crawford Summer Recreation Program
• affirmed a financial commitment of $1,000 as a Driftless Area Art Festival Reception Partner
• approved a $500 donation to offset the Gays Mills Swimming Pool’s operating expenses
• tabled a request for a donation from the Crawford Tourism Council
• approved the Non Metallic Mine Ordinance and Agreement with the county for aid in reviewing applications (frac sand mining)
• called for stricter enforcement of the village’s junk ordinance and asked letters be sent to offending property owners requiring cleanup
• authorized the annual attorney retainer fee of $2,600
• appointed village trustee Bob Froiseth as the village board member on the Plan Commission
• reappointed Joe Friar as a citizen member of the Plan Commission.
• approved a picnic liquor license for the Lions Club for the BMW Rally and the Dairy Days Celebration
• approved an operator’s license for Brad Niemcek